by Captain Olivia
There are countless Christian denominations.
Within these denominations there are countless different
styles of worship. Woven through it all, in everything from
high liturgy to casual house churches, from organs to guitars
to brass bands – music is a part of church. There’s a reason
why almost all church services around the globe include
Music has power. Listening to music can be
powerful, but there is something even more mysteriously
profound when you open your own mouth and sing. I can think
back and recall the number of times that a song has touched my
soul and, without exaggeration, changed my life.
Martin Luther is credited for the birth
congregational singing. For thousands of years music in church
was performed by choirs, in Latin, while the lay people sat
and listened. Music was present, but it did not belong to the
congregation. Luther began writing clear lyrics in the common
language, with singable melodies that were hard to forget. Now
the Church is known as a people who sing.
Luther preferred songs that had
straightforward, bold theology, rather than flowery language
and soft imagery. His lyrics include themes such as the coming
empire, fortresses, fire, pain, and the devil.
He preferred the pronouns “us” and “we” over “I” and
“me”. These were songs written for the people.
Some historians have highlighted that Martin
Luther’s songs were composed in the style of protest songs –
catchy and punchy. This is true of both his lyrics and his
melodies. Katie Schuermann says, “His melodies were
provocative, utilizing unexpected intervals of fourths and
fifths as well as syncopated rhythms which jolted and jarred
the listener”. These songs were not written to only be a
comfort to the persecuted revolutionaries, but also to stir
the crowds to rise up.
Education and intimacy
Luther himself said, "Next to the word of
God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the
world. It controls our hearts, minds and spirits. A person who
does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God does not
deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to
hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of
hogs!" This man was clearly passionate about music!
Songwriting was not merely a hobby for him, but something he
was deeply convicted about.
He knew the truth that songs are influential
– more so than spoken text alone. They can convey fundamental
Biblical insights to young people – even before they are able
to read. In the year 1500 this was not just about children, as
85% of German population was illiterate – but they could still
learn a song. The good news of grace through faith could be
more effectively communicated through these new hymns than
through hundreds of sermons. In fact, Luther’s songs would
buzz from town to town faster than he could, and faster than
the Catholic authorities could shut down. In Magdeburg,
Germany, traveling singers armed with Luther’s anthems
converted the entire town two months before he even arrived.
Secondly, Luther knew that singing is an act
of intimacy. It is more than a method of learning the Bible in
our brains, it also bares the soul. The singer exposes herself
and her emotions and convictions before the Holy Spirit and
before fellow human beings present. When you sing, there is
nowhere to hide.
One of the most familiar examples of
Luther’s music is the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress.” This hymn has
been translated into more languages than any other hymn in
history, including over 70 English translations. This rousing
song is considered the battle hymn of the Reformation,
inspired by Psalm 46.
“The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little
word shall fell him.”
What strength we receive as we open our lips
and confidently sing of the ultimate fate of Satan. Although
we are opposed by our enemy daily, the people of Christ will
always stand, and we will not fear. And as we stand, let us